How does therapy work?

In my experience, the best way to explain how therapy works is to explain it with an analogy.

Imagine you were playing football. During the game, the ball was kicked somewhere between you and your opponent. And as is instinctive, both, you and your opponent slide in to gain control of the ball. Unfortunately, for you, the opponent gets to the ball first and your knee cap, second. This is followed by the excruciating pain of the crack in the knee cap. You haven’t faced pain like this ever and you’re crying on the field. 

Suddenly, the entire scene changes.

A doctor rushes in, injects a painkiller and you are hurried to the hospital where you are told that your knee cap is damaged and you need immediate surgery.

The surgery is successful but you can’t bend your knees without help from a physiotherapist for the next 6 months.

At first, the physiotherapist simply feels the area that’s damaged. She touches your knee, your calf, bends your knee till its injured permissible limit. After a few sessions of stretching, she suggests that you carry out a few exercises at home to recover quicker. 

You do exactly as she tells you to because you want to play football again. Each time you perform any exercise, your knee hurts and you scream in pain. However, you trudge along because you want to play again and the pain of recovery far surpasses the fear of never playing again. 

More importantly, you trust the physiotherapist knows what she is doing. The length of time for you to recover is dependent on your hard work, the extent of your knee damage, and the therapist knowing where to push and where not to. 

How is this related to therapy?

The sequence of events is much the same in a psychotherapy setting except you can’t see the damage or the healing process.

But it’s there.

As humans, our existence forces us to make decisions, build habits, and take risks with our hearts, our careers, health, or relationships. And as happens to everyone, a few of these risks don’t pay off and we get hurt, similar to damage to the knee cap. The hurt makes normal functioning difficult. 

When one of your decisions doesn’t pay off, say you have a heartbreak, lose a ton of money, or somebody close to you dies. There’s an obvious psychological pain that takes place.

When you then decide to seek help the sequence of events is similar to when you were taken to the hospital for your damaged knee cap. 

You’d probably be sent to a psychiatrist first. Who would give you medication to help alleviate your pain, similar to taking the pain killer – symptom reduction, and then the psychiatrist would refer you for therapy to a psychologist. 

Initially, you’d find the psychologist not talking as much and only listening to you, asking some questions in between. Similar to the physiotherapist trying to understand your strengths and capabilities by touching the areas around the knee cap. 

You’d be asked to perform certain tasks at home to aid recovery (exercises to help recover faster). Strategies and techniques suggested by the therapist so that the individual becomes active agents of change in their own lives. On most days these tasks would feel difficult and painful but if you are to live normally again you’d have to work hard.

And if you do follow through, you’d be as good as new in a certain amount of time, dependent on the extent of your injury. 

So you see, physical or psychological, pain is pain and recovery requires help. Start now.
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1 thought on “How does therapy work?

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